Ag-Ruminating About A Possible Comeback For Sorghum

I’m rooting for sorghum to make a comeback in 2018.

I don’t have any money invested in sorghum, so  I don’t stand to gain financially if a bounce-back occurs (although it is true that all of us in the Texas Panhandle benefit economically whenever any of our locally-raised crops or livestock are doing well).

Why I’m rooting for sorghum, in particular, is this. Sorghum has gotten a bad break in recent years. Indeed, you can call it an unfair break.

With the United Sorghum Checkoff Program scoring some victories in its efforts to increase demand, the amount of acres planted to sorghum had begun to rise a few years back. Things were looking up. And then the sugar cane aphid burst onto the scene, a new nemesis with an awesome capacity for devouring fields and killing off yields.

After suffering through the aphid’s assaults for a season or two, farmers in our area and the rest of the state began walking away from sorghum and switching to other crops. Here’s what USDA’s numbers for Texas show. In 2014, there were 2.5 million acres planted to sorghum in our state. That number climbed to 2.6 million in 2015. But, after the aphid threat exploded, acreage figures took a nosedive to 1.9 million in 2016 and dropped further down to 1.8 million this year.

Talking with farmers and other local ag experts in recent weeks, I’m hearing some enthusiasm about a possible comeback for sorghum next year. Why? Well, as they analyze the pluses and minuses for various commodities, some farmers see signs that sorghum simply “pencils out” better. But, a really big boost is coming from ag science, which has rushed to the aid of sorghum with aphid-resistant seed varieties, stronger chemical defenses, and new growing strategies such as planting earlier in the year in order to get crops close to maturity before the aphid arrives.

I’ve also heard that farmers feel encouraged because the aphid simply wasn’t as abundant this year in our area.

It was at this time last year that people began predicting a subtantial acreage increase coming for cotton in the Texas Panhandle. Those predictions certainly came true here in 2017. Maybe 2018 will bring us a similar jump for sorghum.

Out at the Amarillo Farm and Ranch Show, I talked about the outlook for next year with Dr. Brent Bean, director of agronomy for the sorghum checkoff:

 

Dr. Brent Bean

If you’re a farmer looking to switch back to sorghum, Brent says you should start checking on local seed supplies. And he offered some other words of caution:

As to the outlook for sorghum in 2018, USDA is forecasting a 1-million acre increase in acreage across the country, with projected plantings of 6.7 million acres. While those numbers are on a national scale, I’m optimistic the trend USDA is anticipating will be experienced here, as well.

If you have thoughts to share on sorghum or what acreage shifts you think we’ll see, write me at james.hunt@kgnc.com

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